Grenville Grayer’s medals archive includes his British Empire Medal in original box and a wealth of other paperwork and photographs. Bottom left: A SS field cap. Right: 'Lines' written by Heinrich Himmler.

Midlands soldier’s role in capturing evil Nazi SS leader Heinrich Himmler

A PUNISHMENT meted out to naughty schoolboys proved a bizarre key to identifying Heinrich Himmler as he tried to flee the ruins of Nazi Germany.

The SS leader planned to escape in disguise following Adolf Hitler’s suicide at the end of the Second World War in Europe but he was arrested by suspicious British Intelligence Corps soldiers and given a page of lines to complete for a handwriting sample.

That chilling piece of paper has now come to light as part of the British Empire Medal archive of one of the team who took part in the arrest and interrogation of the evil architect of the Holocaust.

Nearly eight decades on, the remarkable story of Grenville Grayer, from Great Barr, Birmingham, has come under the spotlight as his militaria collection goes up for auction with Richard Winterton Auctioneers at The Tamworth Auction Rooms, Church Street, on Thursday, March 24, starting 10am.

Born in 1917, Mr Grayer joined the Army in 1939 and initially served with the Royal Army Service Corps before joining the newly formed Army Intelligence Corps, completing training in Scotland attached to 45 Field Security Section with the rank of sergeant.

It was while serving with 45 FSS in Germany following the Nazi surrender that he encountered one of the 20th century’s most notorious mass murderers.

Referred to as ‘treuer Heinrich’ – ‘the loyal Heinrich’ – since the early 1930s by Hitler, Himmler’s devotion disintegrated in the final weeks of the war as he attempted in vain to broker a truce with the Allies which would see him installed as a post-war German leader.

The inevitable rejection sent Himmler to ground, attempting to escape disguised as an ordinary soldier.

Grenville Grayer’s medals archive, which includes his British Empire Medal in original box and a wealth of other paperwork and photographs.
Grenville Grayer’s medals archive, which includes his British Empire Medal in original box and a wealth of other paperwork and photographs.

During the morning of May 22 1945, a group was stopped at the Bremervorde bridge and handed over to 45 FSS for identity checking.

One, purporting to be a Sergeant Heinrich Hizinger, proved especially suspicious as his papers bore a stamp known to be one used by fleeing SS members.

“Mr Grayer would often chat with his family how one of the soldiers looked uneasy and out of place,” said Nick Thompson, militaria specialist at Richard Winterton Auctioneers, who researched Mr Grayer’s archive at The Lichfield Auction Centre, Wood End Lane, Fradley Park.

“When the prisoners were checked, some were in possession of documents which the Intel Corps knew were being faked to cover up real identities.

“One of these was a Sgt Heinrich Hizinger. Mr Grayer and another sergeant by the name of Britton became even more suspicious and the suspect was ordered to write lines to confirm and ascertain his handwriting.

“Soon the game was up, and the man identified himself as Heinrich Himmler.”

Himmler inked lines repeating: “Ich soll das Reinigungsgerät mitnehmen.” The Reinigungsgerät 34 was a cleaning kit for a rifle, so the writing roughly translates as: “I must bring my rifle cleaning kit.”

Left: Himmler wrote lines repeating “Ich soll das Reinigungsgerät mitnehmen” which roughly translates to “I must bring my rifle cleaning kit”. Right: Grenville Grayer as a young sergeant with 45 Field Security Section, Army Intelligence Corps.
Left: Himmler wrote lines repeating “Ich soll das Reinigungsgerät mitnehmen” which roughly translates to “I must bring my rifle cleaning kit”. Right: Grenville Grayer as a young sergeant with 45 Field Security Section, Army Intelligence Corps.

The macabre page from Himmler’s brief incarceration contains possibly the last words ever committed to paper by one of history’s most evil men. Within hours, he would bite down on a cyanide capsule – an ‘SS Cough Drop’ – secreted in a tooth.

The date was May 23 1945, two weeks after the German surrender and three weeks after Hitler’s own suicide.

In the hours that followed Himmler’s demise, Mr Grayer liberated the handwriting samples and a silk toiletry bag which belonged to the SS chief as ‘tropaion’ – trophies of war – and the items remained in his family ever since.

They now go under the hammer as part of Mr Grayer’s medals archive, which includes his British Empire Medal in original box of issue, named to 135702 AWO CL 2 Grenville Grayer of the Intelligence Corps, plus Africa, Italy, France and Germany Stars, Defence and War medals, all un-named as issued.

The group is accompanied by an original cloth insignia shoulder patch for 30 Corps and a souvenir medallion celebrating the unit.

Grenville Grayer with colleagues from 45 FSS Intel Corps. Mr Grayer is front row on the left. Below: The medals archive includes Heinrich Himmler’s silk washbag.
Grenville Grayer with colleagues from 45 FSS Intel Corps. Mr Grayer is front row on the left. Below: The medals archive includes Heinrich Himmler’s silk washbag.

A wealth of other paperwork includes a photocopy of Himmler’s arrest report signed by those present including Mr Grayer; an original photo of him with colleagues from 45 FSS Intel Corps; original paperwork from 30 Corps Intelligence Summary including intercepts showing life at the front from the German perspective; plus many other items of papers, photos and forms.

Also present is a large double sided silk escape-style map.

The archive is expected to fetch in the region of £2,000 to £3,000,

Other trophies of war from the collection of Mr Grayer, who died in 1995 aged 78, will be sold separately.

These include a rare M41 tropical SS cap – which could fetch up to £2,000 – plus a swastika armband complete with original manufacturer’s slip and a Luftwaffe pilot’s parachute harness.

“All things considered, it is simply an amazing archive,” added Mr Thompson.

Other trophies of war from Mr Grayer's collection include a rare M41 tropical SS cap, a swastika armband complete with original manufacturer’s slip and a Luftwaffe pilot’s parachute harness.
Other trophies of war from Mr Grayer’s collection include a rare M41 tropical SS cap, a swastika armband complete with original manufacturer’s slip and a Luftwaffe pilot’s parachute harness.

Mr Grayer’s nephew Martyn Grayer, of Walsall Road, Lichfield, runs an advertising and marketing agency in the city.

“It has been a fascinating experience to revisit the extraordinary story that relates his wartime experiences and the event of Himmler’s capture that with recent events seem to resonate even more,” he said.

The family moved to Cromwell’s Meadow in the late 1960s and Grenville was a frequent visitor to the city, dining regularly at The Shoulder of Mutton.

“Our ‘Uncle Gren’ fulfilled the entire definition of a ‘favourite uncle’, a unique character, generous, supportive with an anarchic humour but most of all liked by everyone he met,” added Martyn.

“On behalf of my sister Melanie and brother Chris, we are pleased that his story will be shared and maintained with the potential of having a place in an enthusiast’s collection.”

For auction information, viewing and valuation enquiries, call 01827 217746 / 01543 251081, email office@richardwinterton.co.uk or tamworth@richardwinterton.co.uk.

The catalogue for the auction will be online a week before the sale via our Auction Dates page.

The extraordinary Grenville Grayer

Grenville Grayer during his WW2 service and in civvies at Fairbourne, the family home built by his father on the Queslett Road in Great Barr, Birmingham.
Grenville Grayer during his WW2 service and in civvies at Fairbourne, the family home built by his father on the Queslett Road in Great Barr, Birmingham.

Born in Brades village near Oldbury in 1917, Grenville Grayer attended Cronehills Central School in West Bromwich.

His first job was as an office clerk in the town.

At just 21 years old, he persuaded his parents to let his younger brother Geoffrey go to grammar school by offering to pay half the fees!

Mr Grayer joined the Army in 1939 and initially served with the Royal Army Service Corps.

Following service in Africa, Sicily and Italy, he joined the 45 Field Security Section Intelligence of the Army Intelligence Corps and was involved in preparations for D-Day, entering the invasion on D-Day +2, June 8 1944.

He would see action serving in 30 Corps, commanded by Lieutenant General Sir Brian Horrocks.

Following the German surrender, Mr Grayer served in a unit responsible for checking identities of any German forces they encountered. It was at this time his unit encountered Himmler.

After the war, he became a cost consultant for a Walsall firm before branching out to run his own business.

A huge fan of cricket, bonfire night and practical jokes, ‘Uncle Gren’ was a second father to his nephews and niece.

He died aged 78 in 1995 and donated his body to medical science ‘because of the kind of character he was’, his family said.

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